Review: Clash of the Titans

Steve Butts | 12 Aug 2010 09:00
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For thousands of years, Greek myths have served as the raw material of our dreams, inspiring not only the worlds of literature, drama and visual art, but also the language of psychoanalysis. From Homer to Harryhausen, the Greeks have provided artists with many of our most important and enduring cultural references. It's at least part of what the poet Percy Shelley meant when he remarked, "We are all Greeks." It's no surprise, then, that Greek mythology has also figured prominently in games like God of War, Rise of the Argonauts, and, most recently, Clash of the Titans.

I used to argue with folks about the bastardization of Greek myths, not only in the videogame industry, but also in the wider world of books and movies. Then a couple of my fellow editors pointed out that the invention of new contexts for myths in movies like Clash of the Titans or Disney's Hercules just continue the redaction that the Greeks themselves practiced as their own myths took shape. So while I still think Brad Pitt makes a crappy Achilles, I'm comforted that the myths are vital enough to support new meanings and backgrounds for us in the 21st century. On the other hand, I'm disappointed that it serves as the subject matter for a game as terrible as Clash of the Titans.

Based on the recent remake of the old Harry Hamlin movie, Clash of the Titans crams a lot of mythology into a single narrative, which serves as the background material for a mindless, repetitive, hack-and-slash game. The fighting isn't actually all bad; the range of combos you can get using light and heavy moves is impressive and the weapon upgrades give you a sense that you're progressing with each encounter. If you have the right attitude, smashing your way through waves of skeleton warriors or the oh-so-imaginatively-named "frog monsters" is actually a bit of a thrill.

The story sets up a truly epic journey for the player, who begins as a nobody on a crappy little island and rises to challenge the very gods themselves. It's an amazing arc with plenty of memorable highlights. Unfortunately, the story is derailed by predictable missions that spoil the momentum of your hero's journey. The moment you step up to save Princess Andromeda from the Kraken, the king gratefully accepts your offer but then sends you out on a bunch of menial errands. It's like, "Thanks for agreeing to save my daughter from being eaten by the Kraken, but before you do that we have some local problems we were hoping you could help with..." This pointless redirection is made even more ludicrous by the lengths to which the story goes to remind you that 1) Princess Andromeda is going to be eaten pretty soon and 2) defeating the Kraken is impossible.

Why I'm wasting time patrolling the streets of the town is beyond me. To be fair, the king's claims that he's as powerful as the gods seems a little thin when you consider the multitude of demons and skeletons that happen to be wandering around town, but that hardly seems more important than the big showdown. In any case, it sets a precedent for the rest of the game, which alternates between the heart-stopping thrill of catching Pegasus, and the brain-numbing tedium of catching fish from a river. Even worse, you don't actually catch the fish-you just kill everything between you and a dead fish lying on the ground. It soon becomes too apparent which missions are meant to advance the story and which are merely meant to pad out the game's length. In case you're still not entirely clear about this, the fish is a pad mission.

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